(CBS Baltimore) — This week’s Wyndham Championship at Sedgefield Country Club is the last chance PGA Tour players have to make the FedExCup Playoffs. Only the top 125 in the point standings will advance to the Northern Trust. The world’s top-ranked players are assured of a spot because of the points they’ve earned in tournaments this season. And some will take the week off to rest and prepare. But plenty of notable names are currently near the cutoff line and don’t have that luxury.
The biggest name on that list is Rickie Fowler, who sits at 130th on the points list. Fowler has struggled this year and slipped from 53rd to 110th in the world rankings. His tie for eighth at the PGA Championship is his only top-10 finish this season. He placed 22nd at the Wyndham in 2016 in his only appearance in this event. Matt Kuchar is also in danger of missing the playoffs. The world’s 80th-ranked golfer is 124th on the points list. Kuchar placed third at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play back in March, but has missed his last four cuts. He’s never played in the Wyndham.
“I think this happens every year. There are guys where you look 126 and out and think, ‘what? this guy is a multiple time PGA Tour winner, he’s a major champion, how did this happen?’ But I think it’s always such a great reminder that is what makes this sport so much fun to watch and so infuriating to play,” CBS Sports on-course reporter Amanda Balionis said.
Some of the players needing more points are actually ranked in the top 50. Tommy Fleetwood, Adam Scott, and Justin Rose are ranked 35th, 43rd, and 48th respectively. Yet only Scott currently makes the cut in terms of points. All three need a solid showing at the Wyndham Championship to ensure their season continues. Rose finished fifth at Sedgefield in 2009, in one of his two appearances there. Neither Fleetwood nor Scott have managed better than 59th.
One player who isn’t even currently on the FedEx Cup rankings is Will Zalatoris. Despite finishing second at The Masters and holding eight top-10 finishes to his name this season, the 24-year-old has 0 points in the FedEx Cup standings. Because he’s a Special Temporary Member of the PGA Tour, he’ll need to win to get in, and that’s a storyline Balionis is keyed in on this weekend.
“He’s had an incredible, incredible season,” Balionis said of Zalatoris. “It’s hard to believe with how he’s put himself in contention and made it look so easy, that he can really only make it into the playoffs if he wins this week. This is his last chance to kind of make this season an official one past the special temporary membership that he’s already earned.”
Aside from the players on the bubble, the Wyndham is welcoming multiple players from the top 20. Louis Oosthuizen, seventh in the world, is the highest ranked among them. Oosthuizen has five top-three finishes in his last eight events, the PGA Championship, U.S. Open, and Open Championship among them. He’ll be joined by Masters winner Hideki Matsuyama, who’s ranked 17th in the world, and Webb Simpson, who’s ranked 19th.
Oosthuizen is among Balionis’ golfers to watch this weekend because of all of those close finishes.
“Not a dark horse but Louis Oosthuizen is due. This guy could not come any closer more times, especially this season, than he has. I feel like Louis Oosthuizen, if it doesn’t happen this week, I do think it’s going to happen in the playoffs. He’s just playing too good to not see the payout of what he’s been doing,” Balionis said.
Jason Kokrak and Brandt Snedeker were also in the conversation of guys that could find themselves in the mix headed into the weekend. For Simpson, he’s considered the favorite, based on his long history of strong play in the Wyndham Championship. Dating back to 2009, Simpson has finished in the top 10 in eight of his 12 appearances. That includes a win in 2011 and two second places and two third places over the last four years. Balionis says that his comfort level with the course will always have him among the names to watch here.
“There’s something to be said for that ‘horses for courses’ thing. He’s always in contention, he’s always in the mix, and he always plays well here,” Balionis said. “He’s one of those guys that it doesn’t matter what form his game is in, by the time he comes to the Wyndham, you know he’s going to be able to remember how to play well here, and he’s going to put himself at least in the top 10 and in contention into the weekend.”
Sedgefield Country Club has been a regular Tour stop since 2008. But its relationship with professional golf, not to mention its rich history, dates back much further. Sedgefield formed in 1925 and debuted as a tournament course in 1938. Famed course architect Donald Ross created it to fit in with the rolling landscape of the North Carolina countryside. Alterations over the decades stripped away most of the resemblance to Ross’s original design. Major renovations in the first part of the 21st century rebuild the course for the modern player while also restoring the original Ross feel.
Sedgefield, which plays at a par-70 measuring 7,131 yards, remains the only Ross-designed course in the Tour’s regular rotation. The course places a premium on putting the ball in the right place, meaning keeping it on the fairway and finding the right angle to the green. The small, undulating greens allow for interesting pin placements. The greens tend to slope forward, with some falling off the edges.
The course plays as much into the hands of ball-strikers as big hitters. Distance always helps, if it comes with accuracy. Low scores can be had, with the last five champions all shooting better than 20-under par for the tournament. Brandt Snedeker, who won the event in 2018, set the course record that year with a first-round 59.
“It’s a birdie fest. That’s what makes Sedgefield so fun. You have to look at the guys who know how to go low. There’s some players that really thrive off the grind. Really thick rough, difficult conditions, they just want to be able to grind it out and survive against the rest of the field. That’s not what Sedgefield is,” Balionis said. “It’s more like a Travelers Championship or pick a venue where you’re going to have to put up a ton of birdies to be in contention.”
With scores that low, it’s no surprise that scoring opportunities are prevalent and Sedgefield. The 513-yard par 5 on the fifth hole delivers plenty of birdie (and even eagle) chances. Long, straight drivers can reach the plateau green in two shots. Scoring will really depend on where the hole is located.
The par-4 sixth hole is among the course’s more challenging, At 427 yards, it plays downhill to a creek and uphill to an undulating green. It’s a good example of the risk-reward equation that Ross worked into his courses. Most players settle for par here.
The 12th hole is the most difficult of the par-3s. A stream bisects this fairway as well. The reachable two-tiered green is protected by deep bunkers on either side. A par is once again acceptable here, with players finding few birdies in recent years.
Here are the favorites:
Webb Simpson (12-1)
Over the last decade, Simpson has performed the best at Sedgefield of any player on the PGA Tour. And it isn’t even particularly close. He hasn’t looked nearly as good over the last few months though. His last top 10 came at the RBC Heritage over three months ago.
Hideki Matsuyama (14-1)
After winning The Masters, Matsuyama found some struggles finishing outside the Top 20 at both the PGA Championship and the U.S. Open. But, in his last two outings, he’s finished fourth at the Olympics and tied for second at last week’s FedEx St. Jude Invitational.
Louis Oosthuizen (18-1)
As Balionis pointed out, Oosthuizen feels “due” for a win at this point. With four finishes inside the top three in his last six events, he’s been on the brink several times now. Will this be the week he gets over the top? This week marks his first appearance at the Wyndham Championship, so we’ll see if he can win in his debut.
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